The 18th (Montmartre) : Bucolic, Artistic, Touristic
Vows forgotten, views renewed
Those who seriously walk Paris–all of Paris–will know that when walking away from Seine, you will at some point begin walking uphill. The longest and steepest walk will take you to the far edge of the 20th arrondissement (Télégraphe Metro station). That may be the highest point, but it is Montmartre that offers the most sweeping and iconic views over Paris (without having to ascend a tower). With the Sacré Coeur perched atop, it is in itself an iconic view. It is also the place with the largest number of stairs (at least 2380, counting the staircases on all sides).
Montmartre occupies a large section of the 18th arrondissement. It so happens that some of the most neglected enclaves of the city are also in the 18th (la Goutte d’Or, La Chapelle). My purpose here is not sociology, so I’ll limit myself to the area east of Boulevard Barbès, except with special mention for the Marché aux Puces, a village unto itself, and the world’s largest concentration of antique dealers. You’ll discover this maze of curiosities just beyond the northern limit of the 18th, across from the Boulevard Péripherique in Saint-Ouen.
Once upon a time there was a hill covered with vineyards and vine-covered thatch-roof abodes and...some forty windmills. The village looking down upon the city of lights was annexed by that city in 1860, but never entirely lost its village charm. Painters and poets flocked there up until the great war: Renoir, Apollinaire, Utrillo, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Picasso.
Long before its “I love you” wall existed, featuring over three hundred languages, Montmartre was irresistibly romantic and nostalgic. That is how I experienced it too. It was a stage set for various chapters of my life. I even lived there for a brief period, on rue Caulaincourt, from where I took time to explore its curves and crevices with greater intimacy. Is not the essence of Montmartre’s charm exactly this: the stairs leading you know not where until you take them?
They may at times feel like staircases to heaven…but one can only climb so high. There are also winding cobble-stone streets that promise to tickle your fancy, just around the bend. Oh, and what have we here? A bust of Dalida with her generous bronze breasts polished by so many admiring hands. Nearby, the quaint théatre Lepic. Around the bend from that, a postcard windmill. Fanciful names: Au Lapin Agile. And over here, burgeoning grape vines hang from the entrance gate at Square Suzanne Buisson.
The air is filled with love stories dancing through the ages, disrupted by a constant flow of visitors.
To experience Montmartre, you must be willing to stroll and wander. You must love the stairs, and you must eschew the esplanade of the Sacré-Coeur as well as the Place du Tertre during tourist hours. What about living there? Whenever I return for a visit, I think “Yes!” for myself. Walking up Avenue Junot or rue Lepic how can one not want to live there? But I also think “No, too many tourists!” If Paris is the most visited city in the world, Montmartre is surely the most visited “village”.
For most of my search clients, I also recognize that it’s just not convenient enough, in particular for those who dream of a daily stroll by the Seine, nightly opera attendance, and regular trips to the Louvre.
Montmartre will remain home to the hopelessly romantic who will “climb any mountain”. Maybe that’s you?
Enjoy my Montmarte photo album
Places to eats
I’ve been back to this café/restaurant more than any other over the past decade. It’s not because the food is so special, although it has been consistently good. It’s the location at the bottom of one long staircase, and at the top of another that I’ve always found enticing.
Le Cabanon de la Butte (mostly for the view)